At a time when most small businesses are struggling, one Albany sports apparel company is hitting its stride during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The uptown-Albany-based specialty apparel company NOVUS, began in college dorm rooms in Maine and New Jersey in 2011.
Brothers Garrett and Nick Bernardo both went to the University of Maine on baseball scholarships, but wanted to wear something cooler than what they were seeing on store shelves.
“It was a side hobby in college and – you know - selling tank tops and crew neck sweatshirts to our sports teammates,” Garrett said. “We played baseball at the University of Maine and we thought it’d be fun to just slap a logo on some products and see if we could sell it to our friends.”
Their third partner, Scott Klimchak, got the word out at Rutgers University.
Their designs, which Garrett sketched in his notebook, became so popular on campus that people would ask them when their next line was coming out. With the popularity of the clothes and their many friends in the sports world, they decided to make it a full-time career in 2017.
The Bernardos are from the Capital Region, where their dad and uncle own a bail bond company, so the brothers decided to set up headquarters close to home while networking across the country.
“A lot of our buddies were becoming coaches or, you know, had connections to different professional teams, were playing in the major leagues or whatever it be,” Garrett said.
So, what’s the difference between going to a local business like NOVUS and just ordering something online? Garrett Bernardo says: quality.
“We’re not just another screen printer out there that’s taking a stocked Nike product and slapping their school logo on it,” Garrett said. “We have the ability to customize down to the thread where we could -- You pick a hoodie? You could do red sleeve and a blue sleeve or change the thread color and really give the customer the ability to make a product from scratch.”
On their wall is a signed jersey that says “To my boys at NOVUS.”
“That’s Harrison Butker, he’s a kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs,” Garrett explained.
“Yeah, that was last year’s game jersey,” Nick said.
NOVUS signed a partnership with Butker in March. They created his personal logo, marketing brand, and clothing line. They even personalized his packaging – with luxe tissue paper sporting his logo and sleek boxes printed with Butker’s action shots.
“So we were able to really fully craft an exclusive line for Harrison and really from nuts to bolts branded him with his own apparel,” Garrett said. “It’s our unique products and cuts but we actually sat down with him and he was like, ‘Oh I want my hoodie to be white on the bottom and the sleeves to be black and can I have a quarter zip,’ it was just pretty cool how he crafted it with us.”
But when sports shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the brothers were forced to expand their audience and reimagine NOVUS outside the sports realm. NOVUS started looking at corporations and essential businesses as clients instead. Nick says their ability to fully customize apparel is great for essential workers with unique needs – like their order from the New York State Police.
“The jacket we just developed for them that their doing – where we have custom side zippers for their guns with clips and inside we have custom pockets,” Garrett said.
But the Bernardo brothers say you don’t have to be an NFL player or a police officer to get the full customizable experience. They take orders as small as 12 units for every type of team.
“From high schoolers to colleges to professional athletes and – that’s kind of how we’ve stayed in the game being done with our playing careers,” Garrett said. “It’s fun to do sportswear and now we’re branching more into corporate apparel, too.”
Nick Bernardo says with business booming, they’ve had to move away from every design starting in his brother’s notebook – they’ve streamlined the process on their website so that from start to finish, each order takes about four weeks.
“They can fill out a quote page, they can select the product they want to see, they can tell us the colors, they can provide their logos, if they need a logo we can make one, we offer that as a service, too,” Garrett said. “So we’ve really tightened up that process to where everything we’re doing is with that vision that we want to make this a national brand – and beyond.”
NOVUS has its own in-house content creator now, an operations manager, a graphic design intern, and a marketing intern. No matter how big it gets, they say they’ll still be just two guys designing all the cool apparel they wish they had when they were kids. They’ve come a long way from being two brothers in a dorm room brainstorming mottos.
“It was more of like a… ‘Own Your Crown’… ‘Wear The Crown’… We need some alliteration… and then it was like… ‘Claim Your Crown,’” the brothers said.
For more information on how to “claim your crown” at NOVUS, go to www.NovusClothingCompany.com